We’re deep into the prime season of mountain and trail running, 50- to 100-plus-mile racing and pacing, and long unsupported journeys around the country and world. It’s been fantastic to have more pack options that let me comfortably carry everything I need and a few things I want while engaging in such grand adventures. My pack of choice this summer has often been the women’s-specific Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 4.0 ($159.95). This 12.4-liter pack comes with one Body Bottle 500, with its 500 milliliter capacity. With the bottle included, the pack weighs 357 grams, and it’s 259 grams without the bottle. The colorways currently offered are coral/magenta and teal/navy.
Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 4.0 Construction and Fit
The women’s-specific pack is designed to fit individuals with ribcage measurements of 26-38 inches in the XS/S and 32-41 inches in the M/L. I wear a 34A bra size and found plenty of room in the XS/S for wearing it cinched down over a thin base layer as well as over a base layer, thin wool hoody, and a thin hybrid puffy. In fact, I’ve yet to max out the straps, and the amply sized arm openings mean I have no difficulty getting the pack on or off.
The pack is lined with lightweight, highly breathable, translucent MicroMono mesh which gives it a relatively smooth feel against the skin for those who wish to wear it over a sports bra. I found the material to interact seamlessly with any layer I had on beneath, never resulting in ‘shirt creep’ in the front or significant abrasions to my garments regardless of their fiber. Interestingly, this MicroMono mesh doesn’t absorb moisture, so on hot days my shirt definitely remains damp beneath my pack and the moisture makes its way into the hydration pocket which sits closest to my back. If you’re using this pocket to instead store layers, be aware as they may end up absorbing the moisture instead.
The body of the pack is made with a polyurethane-coated 30D Nylon Ripstop and 150 g Flex Mono Mesh for an extremely lightweight and durable combination that is weather resistant and soft to the touch. The storage pockets utilize a four-way stretch Woven Mesh that is even lighter than before on previous packs yet doesn’t sacrifice durability. There wasn’t an Adventure Vesta of this size before, but the weight savings from these new and improved fabrics in the similar men’s packs from the 3.0 to 4.0 versions is around 20%.
In plain speak, I’ve not been very gentle with this pack as it travels from pacing gigs to 14er adventures to long training runs in tote bags stuffed with fuel, recovery drinks, shoes, and trekking poles. However, there’s nary a scratch or snag from boulders, talus-field picnics, or my dog’s toenails. I am always amazed at how heavily I can load the pack yet how easy it rides once it’s on and cinched down.
In reference to ‘cinching down’ the pack, one innovative feature that Ultimate Direction’s 4.0 packs now come with is their new Comfort Cinch technology. This allows you to pull one or both toggles on either side of the lowest aspect of the rear of the pack to snug up the fit against your torso. I find this super helpful during mountain excursions as I add and remove layers depending on the weather as well as when my pack weight decreases over the course of a long run and hike as my food and water supplies dwindle. It took me a few times at first to figure out just how much to ‘cinch’ to get the fit just right, but it’s easy enough to correct should you tighten or loosen too much even without taking off the pack. I’ve seen in other reviews where the plastic pieces that allow this cinch to occur have caused some discomfort along the runner’s spine. I have not had any issues with this wearing light or heavy loads for up to 9.5 hours on varying terrain.
Another really fantastic feature that demonstrates the pack’s versatility with varying load amounts is the extra compression-strap hooks on the soft side rails at the rear of the pack. The bungees that criss-cross over the back stuff pocket of the pack can stretch to attach to these extra hooks which further compresses the load down, holding it much closer to your body. This prevents the lighter or more shifty loads from bouncing around behind you which is fantastic for runs where perhaps there’s only a jacket in the back pocket to counter balance the fuel and fluids in the front.
Other features that speak to the rigorous research and testing that goes on behind the scenes at Ultimate Direction are the improved front pole attachments (which I describe more in the next section), the whistle that doesn’t require massive neck mobility to reach secured behind the burrito pocket, the pass-through points that allow the bladder hose to route to either side and thread through optional guides along the way (a bladder is sold separately), the reflective bungee cords and zipper pulls that make the pack stand out incredibly well by headlamp or car light, the now-sliding rail sternum straps, and the little detail that’s been present since the women’s Vesta concept began many years ago—the ponytail band attached to the key clip in the rear valuables pocket. I have used and appreciated each of these features on most every run—and altogether they make the pack so easy to choose.
Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 4.0 Storage and Hydration Options
Rather than discussing each pocket option non-functionally, I’ll give you a specific idea of the volume this pack holds very comfortably. Here’s what was in my pack for pacing my sister for 8.5 hours at the High Lonesome 100 Mile at the southern end of the Sawatch Range in Colorado. I had a lot in my pack, but I wanted to be prepared for all possible pacing scenarios, including a longer time out than predicted and bad/cold weather. I’ll work from the back of the pack, to its sides, to the front.
Back hydration pocket lining: 1.5-liter bladder
Back large zip pocket: Lightweight waterproof pants and jacket, thin wool hat, 2 headlamps with extra batteries, 1 large-sized bar, 2 packs of chews, smartphone
Back external stretch/stuff pocket: Emergency blanket
Back external bungees: Thin synthetic puffy
Back lower vertical-zip flat pocket: Collapsible cup for aid-station liquids, physiology tape
Back upper vertical-zip flat pocket: ID/key in baggie, 2 bandaids, small pouch of lube
Side left horizontal-zip flat pocket: 2 regular-sized bars; Pouch behind this pocket: Nothing
Side right horizontal-zip flat pocket: Pack of chews, pack of drink mix; Pouch behind this pocket: Trash
Front upper left burrito pocket: Body Bottle 500, baggie of electrolyte tabs
Front lower left stretch/stuff pocket: 800 calories of gels, chews, and waffles
Front upper right bungee pocket: Body Bottle 500; 2 stuff pockets overlaying bungee pocket: Baggie with tissues in one, nothing in other
Front lower right zip pocket: 1 waffle, trash
Front pole attachments: These attachments are a new design with a snap strap at the top and a flat elastic strap at the bottom. I would note that the snap on top is rather difficult to fasten back on if stowing poles on the run. The snap tension is strong enough that I’m curious if the snap will at some point rip off the ripstop material on the pocket with use, but so far, no wear and tear is visible. As a bonus, I also found the pole attachments on one side useful in guiding my extra long hydration bladder tube during this long run.
Side note, because I used two Body Bottles in the front pockets, there was no room for my phone up front. It went into the large zip pocket in the back. The front left chest large burrito pocket is large enough for a plus-size smartphone and fuel if no bottle is used in it.
Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 4.0 Overall Impressions
I really like this pack. The Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 4.0 is versatile enough that if you only want to own one pack, this is that pack. With the extra compression hooks for the bungee cords to attach to, you can use this as a daily, two-hour-run pack with the back pockets compressed down just as easily as you can use it with the load capabilities maxed out for long days in the mountains or in bad weather. The overall ease and security of the front attachment system for the poles alone is one of my top reasons for reaching for this pack so much this spring and summer. I’m glad Ultimate Direction listened to so many of us women who wanted more storage capacity in a women’s-specific pack. This being said, I found several times in the past six months that I still wished there was an option with volume closer to the unisex 16-liter PB Adventure Vest 3.0 or the 16.4-liter Adventure Vest 4.0. Maybe down the road there will be a women’s-specific adventure vest with equal storage capacity to these unisex adventure vests?
My wish list for improvements on this pack is limited:
- I really appreciate packs that have the small zippered pockets above the front bottle holders. Ultimate Direction has this on the Adventure Vest 4.0 but for some reason not on the women’s-specific Adventure Vesta 4.0. I prefer an easy-to-access place to store my electrolyte tablets, drink tabs, or other small items, and I prefer them up out of the way where they can’t mistakenly fall out of a larger pocket. It’s a bonus if they have waterproof material.
- I want the small front and side zip pockets to have a wider opening and/or stretchier mesh to really utilize these pockets well. I find it really difficult to get things in and out of these pockets especially with thin gloves on. The front large stuff pocket is perfect in opening size and stretchiness of material. I know there are no ‘stretchy zippers,’ but if it was possible to turn the front lower right zip pocket (beneath the Body Bottle pocket) into another stretchy stuff pocket, it would be perfect. The zippers add nice security, but they hamper ease of use for me.
- I have a little difficulty with the fit through the chest when the pack isn’t fully loaded. I think women with larger cup sizes will actually appreciate this fact, so I wouldn’t want a significant change here, but the upper arm/chest area gaps more than I’d like despite having the sliding sternum straps snug—again, only with light loads. It’s a minor complaint and hasn’t resulted in any chafing yet. It’s the only fit issue I’ve had and it’s eliminated when the pack is full.
Well done, Ultimate Direction! I look forward to seeing the women’s line continue to evolve in response to innovations and feedback from the women rocking these packs!
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you run in the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 4.0? What do you think of the pack overall for your needs?
- Storage pockets on the Adventure Vesta 4.0, can you share what you typically put in each of them and how they work for you? And how about your access to them? Do their openings and sizes work well for you?
- What do you think of the new Comfort Cinch technology on Ultimate Direction’s latest packs? How do the adjustments work for you in terms of ease of use and ability to cinch to your liking?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand that produces packs, please share that relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]